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Dillon v. Myers

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

April 6, 2017

TASHA DILLON
v.
DAVID MYERS

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 10/08/2015

         PIKE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JAMES D. BELL

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: PIETER JOHN TEEUWISSEN ANTHONY RENARD SIMON.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: BRANDON CURRIE JONES DAVID WAYNE BARIA.

          RANDOLPH, PRESIDING JUSTICE.

         ¶1. Tasha Dillon contested the results of the August 4, 2015, Democratic primary for Mississippi House of Representatives ("House") District 98.[1] The Democratic primary's purpose was to determine the party's candidate or nominee in the November general election. The Pike County Circuit Court dismissed the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Dillon appealed. As the circuit court erred in finding it lacked jurisdiction, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. Tasha Dillon and David Myers were candidates in the Democratic primary for House District 98, held in Walthall and Pike Counties. The Pike County Election Commission ("PCEC") certified Myers as the winner by a vote of 2, 003 to 1, 859. On August 24, Dillon filed a petition of contest with the Mississippi Democratic Executive Committee ("MDEC") and filed an amended petition on September 1. Two days later, Dillon petitioned the Pike County Circuit Court for judicial review, as provided in Mississippi Code Section 23-15-927.

         ¶3. In the circuit-court proceeding, the Pike County Board of Election Commissioners and the Pike County Circuit Clerk ("Election Officials") moved to intervene. The Election Officials moved to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Myers filed a separate motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Following a hearing on the motions, the Pike County Circuit Court dismissed the contest for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, reasoning that Article 4, Section 38 of the Mississippi Constitution and Section 23-15-955 of the Mississippi Code controlled, but acknowledging the existence of conflicting caselaw on the issue. Dillon appealed.

         ISSUES

         ¶4. Dillon raises two issues on appeal, which have been restated for clarity:

I. Whether the trial court erred in dismissing for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.
II. Whether the trial court erred in allowing the Election Officials to intervene.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Whether the trial court erred in dismissing for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

         ¶5. This Court reviews questions of law, including jurisdictional questions, de novo. McDaniel v. Cochran, 158 So.3d 992, 995 (Miss. 2014); McCain Builders, Inc. v. Rescue Rooter, LLC, 797 So.2d 952, 954 (Miss. 2001).

         ¶6. Dillon argues the circuit court had jurisdiction pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 23-15-927.[2] Myers argues the House had exclusive jurisdiction pursuant to Section 38 of the Mississippi Constitution.[3] Caselaw arguably supports both positions.

         ¶7. In the 2003 Republican Primary for House District 56, Jep Barbour was certified the winner over his opponent, Phillip Gunn. Barbour v. Gunn, 890 So.2d 843, 844 (Miss. 2004). Gunn filed a contest with the State Republican Executive Committee. Id. When the executive committee failed to act promptly, Gunn sought judicial review. Id. The Circuit Court of Hinds County ordered a new election in two precincts. Id. Barbour appealed, arguing the circuit court lacked jurisdiction because Gunn had not given the executive committee time to act. Id. at 846. This Court held

that the trial court properly found that it had jurisdiction to proceed in this matter. Miss. Code Ann. § 23-15-927 plainly states that an election "contestant shall have the right forthwith to file in the circuit court of the county wherein the irregularities are charged to have occurred, " if the "executive committee having jurisdiction shall fail to promptly meet or having met shall fail or unreasonably delay to fully act upon the contest or complaint, or shall fail to give with reasonable promptness the full relief required by the facts and the law."

Id. at 847. Barbour supports Dillon's argument.

         ¶8. Conversely, Myers argues the jurisdictional exclusivity of Section 38 of the Mississippi Constitution controls and was neither raised nor argued by either Barbour or Gunn. Indeed, this Court previously has held that Section 38 applies to primary election contests for the Mississippi Legislature (albeit without addressing Section 247 of the Constitution, which specifically addresses party primary elections). See Foster v. Harden, 536 So.2d 905 (Miss. 1988); Henry v. Henderson, 697 So.2d 447 (Miss. 1997).

         ¶9. In Foster, two candidates were certified for a runoff election in the Democratic primary for Senate District 28. Foster, 536 So.2d at 906. Foster was not certified and filed a petition with the executive committee challenging the qualifications of the candidates certified to run in the primary runoff. Id. When the committee denied her petition, Foster sought judicial review. Id. Harden filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to Section 38 of the Mississippi Constitution. Id. When the trial court dismissed, Foster appealed. Id. This Court found Section 38 "provides in unambiguous language that each house of the legislature 'shall judge of the qualifications, return and election ...


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